Thursday, September 29, 2011

145kph - 25 Sept 2011

25 Sept 2011
Warning. Your car may explode on this freeway
Travel day 1. The beginning of the long haul home. Today we tried to get up and leave early but the pleasantries of breakfast and packing got in the way. We were finally in the car by 10.30 and Monseiur GPS promotly put us on the toll road to Paris. This was not the way I'd planned to go but it turned out to be good due to the lack of traffic. It also helped that it was a Sunday so we had a good run without many trucks. The tolls added up to E50 - not cheap but a lot easier than the endless, time consuming small roads.

Luke averaged 130kph, up to 145kph at times, during which the petrol guage visibly ticked down. We zoomed past the usual French countryside, mourning the loss of such a nice day. But holidays have to end eventually.

The Paris part was beset by traffic jams and unfortunately Monseiur GPS took us on the inner ring road instead of the A86 so we lost a bit of time there. Spotted the Eiffel Tower, the Parthenon and Sacre Couer and in the distance, that's as close as we got to the city. It felt like a pity not to do Paris but we'd been there last trip and it was better to spend the time elsewhere.

We made it to the el cheapo Premiere Classe hotel by about 5.30. It was our cheapest hotel and it showed it. Corridors smelled of smoke, shower was tiny, planes flying overhead and the whole place was directly under huge high tension powerlines that actually buzzed. Very much The Castle hotel.

After a spot of repacking we headed out for dinner in nearby Roissy. It being Sunday most things were shut but we scored a win at a Japanese restaurant that had the best gyoza I've ever had. It was so good to not eat French food. Finally retired for the night at about 11.30

Beautiful Bordeaux 24 Sept 2011

24th Sept 2011

Woke to the pervading smell of pastries. Didn't want to get up so spent about an hour and a half in a pastry dream. Finally we went down for our provided breakfast. The Chateau breakfast room has one big table and 3 smaller ones which tend to insist you sit with strangers. We hogged our own 4 seater for most of the time but ended up chatting to an older American bloke called Geoff from Maine who had been on a holiday in Russia for almost a month. He was very interesting but we left him to his croissants after a bit.

Chateau Meyre and vineyard

Unfortunately the weather was cloudy and a little rainy. We hung around the room until check out at midday, playing on the internet. Today is Jim Henson's 75th birthday so we ended up watching muppet clips on Youtube instead of getting ready. Doesn't matter that you're in France, Youtube is still a time waster.

Finally got moving and made our way into Bordeaux, Monseiur GPS took us through the centre without too much difficulty. Got a free park at the Ibis and settled in to the room early which meant we were raring to go by 2.30.

The best decision of the day was to rent a bike via the City's free velo scheme. Took a bit to get going because we had to give it the credit card twice for a deposit. Also, the 2nd bike we chose was chained to another one, vandalism, so Luke had to start again. Still, the system is relatively easy for first timers and, of course, you don't need a stupid helmet so anyone can use it, including clueless Australian tourists. We saw lots of people hop off the tram, type in a number and cycle off, happy as a clam. It's free for half and hour or 2 euro after that.

Middle Eastern middle-of-the-street celebration
When we'd finally got 2 bikes ready to go, a commotion occurred in the traffic... 3 or 4 small cars roared off the bridge and into the nearby road honking their horns. Then they pulled up and stopped traffic (not good considering it's a large roundabout). More honking, lots of yelling and leaning out of windows and then we saw what was going on - a Middle Eastern style wedding. The bride and groom were heaved out of their convertible and suddenly a large crowd was dancing around them, cheering like lunatics, hoisting the groom on their shoulders and throwing him. I think they'd been doing this every 500 metres or so. We bemusedly watched on but most of the Bordeaux people were rolling their eyes. The people in traffic behind weren't too happy either. They'd only just got going again when a fire engine tried to make its way through. It was all very exciting.

We rode over the bridge and found ourselves riding along the beautiful, busy waterfront of Bordeaux on a Saturday afternoon. The Garonne river is huge and muddy, the tide causing multitudes of eddies as it goes in and out. There were sailing boats racing along its length and thousands of people were out enjoying the day, despite the clouds. We rode about 2 km down towards the revamped dock area, stopping at the "thin fountain" where a very thin layer of water covers a vast area of paving stones, creating a reflective surface. Kids love it. Every now and again it sprays a thin mist as well. The buildings along the riverfront are all majestic 18th century ones, very imposing and regular.

Free velo scheme bikes on the Bordeaux riverfront
I liked Bordeaux more than I expected, mainly thanks to the glorious riverside vibe. It was very relaxed and joyful. We saw people on unicycles, kids learning to ride bikes, rollerbladers, all kinds of bikes. The skate park was packed and we liked that there was a special area for small kids too.

Having done a reccie we then went to find the art gallery. Had to ride along the tramlines in places which I found very disturbing but lots of other people were doing it. You had enough warning that a tram was coming so you could get off but I was still panicked about getting my wheels stuck in the tracks. That and pedestrians who were very unpredictable.

The art gallery, presided over by a very snooty French lady who deigned to print out our free tickets, offered a short but sweet stroll through French art history. Saw some Titians, a Bruegel, some Renoir... the usual. A nice diversion, not too much art but enough to say I at least had SOME culture on this French trip.

Now THAT is art. Wedding photo in the background.
Just as we emerged a giant convoy of cyclists went by, part of an anti-climate change rally. Luke wanted to join in but by the time we unlocked the city bikes and got stuck in traffic we'd lost them.
In front of the Grand Theatre
We rode by the Grand Theatre and I watched the kids carousel without getting on, even though I wanted to. Didn't want to spoil the memory. Two older women paid their money and gleefully went for a ride on the horses. grinning like idiots.
I want to go on the merry go round!
Then we went back to the riverfront, uncorked a 375 bottle of rose and watched the sailing races as the sun set. We were the only ones drinking... I'm sure the French were looking at us sideways for such uncouth behaviour. Wine is for dinner, you silly sods!

After that we went riding in search of dinner, rode all the way down to the marina and back (again). When stopping to look at the menu of one restaurant, I was browbeaten by a haughty athletic man who was striding along in his skimpy shorts and Nikes, obviously training. I had pulled up and was about the park the bike against the railing but he walked straight at me and, panicking, I actually moved my bike out of his way so he didn't have to go around me. After it happened I felt silly for doing it. As we rode back towards the bridge we encountered him again. So I rode around him and slowed down, carefully getting in his way. We also did it again a bit later, heading straight for him and slowing down. Pathetic revenge really but it felt good.

Actually, Luke wants to go back to St Emilion so we can make a witty comeback to a shopkeeper who decided to make some comment about Australian losing the rugby. Not that we really care but it would have been soooo good to say... "Ah yes, but we did win the Tour de France this year." Hah! Take that, shopkeeper!

Finally decided on dinner at a smallish place, very nice. Luke had a Lillet which was like a martini. I had a kir mure which isn't as good as a peche one, even if it is proper and correct.

Eventually we made it back to the room quite late and retired to bed. I was about to go to sleep when large booming sounds occurred outside. It was midnight and Bordeaux were having fireworks. I have no idea why and I haven't been able to find out. Alas, the Ibis hotel at Bastide doesn't face the waterfront so we only had flashes in the sky and screaming teenagers nearby to go on.

All up I had a surprisingly great last day in Bordeaux, better than expected.

Vineyard Delights 23rd September 2011

23 Sept 2011

Wine tour at Chateau Meyre
Luke felt he was getting sick again so promptly took himself off to the doctor in St Emilion this morning with help from the caravan park Lily Allen, who wrote a long note for him and gave him directions. The glory of Google Translate. He got lost a bit but still managed to get in and out and made purchases of necessary drugs - much stronger and different antibiotics and scary lung anti-inflammatories. Third time's the charm.

This left me to clean the cabin which I did and Lily gave us a late checkout which helped. Near the restaurant they'd inflated the kids' jumping castle and it looked very inviting, much better than the washing up - until they started pressure cleaning it, plumes of water going everywhere. The park closes for the season on Sunday. The fun is over. It's an interesting thing in Europe, that they close down the resorts and caravan parks in October. Perhaps it's not economical to run it with so few people visiting but I always wonder what happens to the people who work there. Do they just holiday for the next 5 months or so?

They were deconstructing the mini-golf course as well, which meant we were the last people to have fun on it for the season. Quite the achievement.

We were finally on our way by 11.30.

Monseuir GPS got us lost again and we ended up going the long way to Avensan. On the way we stopped at a E.Leclerc to buy bread - took about 20 minutes and was rather painful. We ended up in the 10 items or less line which was dominated by hordes of young men buying sandwiches for lunch. We were also treated to the worst toilet ever, a self cleaning monstrosity that required squatting over a hole and which flushed the entire room after you left. EEK.

Inside the yeasty new cellar at Chateau Meyre
Drove around looking for somewhere to have French lunch. Castelnau looked rather dingy so we went back to Chateau Meyre to check in early. It was lucky we did - the English language tour started at 2.30pm.

It was very interesting, we were given info about grape varieties, production methods, terroir etc. shown around the cellars which smelled of yeast and then given a tasting of two wines. It was just us and 2 Japanese tourists. The guide was only 23, looked like Revenge of the Nerds crossed with a member of the country club. Thick glasses, sweater over his shoulder, green pants, loafers. He was very knowledgeable and liked to talk about marketing.

Nice barrels of oak
Chateau Meyre isn't Grand Cru and is never allowed to be. So they just try and make the best wine they can. It's here that the Cru system falls down, I think. It's possible that the Grand Cru wines just sit back and make money on their laurels, awarded in the 1800s based mainly on location. Meanwhhile, the wineries trying to modernise or try something new are held back. It's a wine version of the class system and I think it's rather dodgy.

Curtains match the wallpaper
Our room was small but flowery, wallpaper matched the curtains, if you know what I mean. And by that I mean that the wallpaper matched the curtains. Comfy beds. It was really hot and we chickened out on riding bikes around the vineyards. Luke did a lot of laying around feeling ill but we eventually took ourselves out for a nice walk around the vineyard at sunset, eating the grapes. You could taste the difference between different varieties on offer (merlot, cab sav, petit verdot). Some of the vines were 40 years old. We also admired the huge windmill that stood amidst the vines, labelled with the words "NOFROST". They use it to prevent frost settling on the buds in spring.

We were pre-booked at the Restaurant Savoie in Margeaux. It was expensive but we decided we were splashing out. The truffle ravioli with lobster I had was incredibly good. Not surprising, really.
Langoustine (lobster) with white truffle ravioli and black truffle ice cream
 I also had weird St Jacques crab with vegies, orchid flowers and oranage and caramel sauce, very nice. It's not often you eat orchids for dinner. Luke had foie gras and pigeon. Tasty. And one less pigeon in the world.

For my aperetif I orded a kir vin blanc with peche (peach). The waiter looked at me and laughed. He called a waitress over. She looked at me and laughed. Took a bit of prompting but they finally agreed to make one. Apparently kir vin blanc only has cassis or mure. No peche.

There is no peche. What is wrong with you that you would want peche? There is no peche.

I think, why would you stop at just 2 flavours? If you're going to put flavouring in your white wine, why not anything that takes your fancy? I asked the receptionist at the chateau the next day. She looked at me funny and said it was just not done. I pointed out that I'd had this drink at least 3 other times in other areas of France... it wasn't my invention. Obviously they're set in their ways in Bordeaux.

Luke ordered his first Martini blanc and it was spectacular. That's it, we're martini drinkers now.

The bill came to about E120 with drinks (a small 375 bottle of Margeaux red which was E23). Expensive but good.
The vinyard with Chateau Meyre in the background

The view of the vineyards from our window

Went to bed very late and didn't sleep too well, thanks to all that alcohol.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fine Wine

At the Le Savoie restaurant in Margaux, drinking the cheapest wine on the list. As you can see, it was surprisingly good,

Friday, September 23, 2011

St Emilion Wine-a-rama 22 Sept 2011

22 Sept 2011 St Emilion

We headed up to the little town early in the hope of getting it all done in half a day and then doing a bit of vineyard cycling in the afternoon, especially as the weather is still sunny and quite warm.

View from the church tower

This plan went out the window when we booked into the only English language tour of the monolith underground church at 2pm. So we ended up with 3 hours to waste in the village. It wasn't such a bad thing. We strolled around, looked at old buildings, poked our heads in the various shops and strolled some more. The Tour du Roy tower looks as though it should have John Cleese on the top, blowing raspberries at the English Kin-niggits.

As with every French tourist village, there are 20 shops all selling the same thing. In this case it is St Emilion wine. We encountered one bloke ina  very small shop who made a good joke... he spotted that I didn't speak French and said "You're the first one." He had an Asterix moustache.

After dismissing several touristy style restaurants (with only outside dining in the smoke) we went to a rather small place down the hill. Straight away the waitress spoke English, mainly because she was English herself and had only been in France for 2 months. She was a sommelier and her partner was a chef, they were making their way in the wine region. Our lunch was fab, I had foie gras on toast with cremant. We were seated near some nice English people who agreed not to smoke on us.
Mmm, foie gras

It's very close to harvest at this point, the vines are very heavy with purple grapes, there are lots of people out picking and the roads are full of little tiny one man tractors pulling trailers full of grapes.

The church tour was OK, rather credulous about the various micraculous claims of St Emilion. We were taken down to his hermit cave where a rock ledge was his bed and a chair carved in the wall is said to help with fertility. I sat on it in a skeptical manner.

We were also shown a 13th century church which still had some of its frescoes thanks to the protective smoke that occurred when it was used as a barrel cooperage after the revolution. We couldn't take a photo but one of them featured a "photobomber" underneath the image of the saint and patron (you can almost make it out in this pic, first fresco on the left).

The guide only gave us a short time in the catacomb and ossary which was frustrating as that bit is always interesting. There was a whole arm of it where she said "You may quickly look down it if you like" and that was the best bit... bloody guided tours.
Sneaky ossuary photo
The underground church was rather impressive but as it had been used as a gunpowder factory in the revolution it was light on for decoration. The "St George and the Dragon" carving high on the wall was impressive.

After wandering around in search of "le veritable macaroons" we encountered an Australian accent talking authoritivately about Merlot. Turns out a bloke from Adelaide gives tastings and sells Bordeaux wine in his own shop in St Emilion. We put the hard word on him for some info and a tasting and were thus treated to an hour of standing around tasting rather expensive Grand Cru wine. He did ignore us when a richer customer came in but he was nice enough.

The one thing we learned is that St Emilion has created a new class of wine, "Grand Cru Classe" which is given to wineries that consistently make good wine for 10 years in a row. This is an impressive improvement on the "Cru" concept which mainly relies on location and - I think - allows producers to be lazy and rest on their laurels.

We tasted wines from E15 to E59, the expensive one just tasted expensive. They were all mostly Merlot but there were great differences in taste and style. I liked the "L'essances"(?) because the impressive oaky smell was totally different from the subtle taste. We ended up buying a couple of bottles but we got a lot of entertainment out of the shop so might as well.

Ripe grapes ready to be picked
We found the authentic macaroon shop and they didn't sell singles which was no good as we couldn't be sure they wouldn't include the mysterious European stinkbug taste thatseems to find its way into some sweet things here. Instead I went back to a standard Macaroon shop and bought some which were normal and nice.

After a rest Luke and I retired to the mini golf course for a round of stupidity. Averaged a par of about 20 per hole, I suspect. Didn't help that half the fibreglass greens were on quite the angle but we had a lot of fun.

Dinner was the last of the pasta and bacon and sauce. We have a bit of leftover food, will just have to throw it all away, I guess.

Tomorrow we go to Chateau Merye for more wine tasting and then we're on the home stretch. I'm actually feeeling a bit homesick now, ready for my own bed and some steamed vegies.

Living The Caravan Park Resort Life 21 Sept 2011

11-09-21 Solstice

Another dot day, essentially. Packed up and cleaned the cabin and headed off about 10.30. Made a side trip to the Bastide village of Domme and drove around it. Successfully parked in a pay parking spot for 5 minutes, rushed over, took in the view, bought some bread and buggered off again. Domme looks like a nice place to have lunch and I had originally planned to do that but other stuff got in the way.

View over the Dordogne valley from Domme
The drive to St Emilion took about 2 and a half hours. We stopped to have French lunch on a picnic table at a servo on the freeway. Lots of other people doing the same thing, all wielding their baguettes and cheese. The folding cool bag we bought at the camping shop yesterday did a good job of keeping all our cool stuff cold and meant we could just eat what we already had for lunch.

Turned up at the caravan park at 2pm, early again but the reception was happy to let us in. She was a very young Frenchwoman who speaks English with a cockney/Australian accent. I thought she was Australian at the start and asked her... she says everyone thinks she's a foreigner. We've decided that she's French Lily Allen.
The tiny cabin

We collapsed into the cabin and had a nap before driving up to St Emilion on a reccie. Discovered that parking is scant and expensive and also that we were probably too late for tours. After doing a lap of the village and then getting hopelessly lost out the other side, we went back to the cabin and decided to have an afternoon off.

Thus, we put on the swimmers and headed to the heated pool. It took about half an hour of lying in the sun to get warm enough to swim but it was all very pleasant. There were English baby boomers complaining thqat the water was too warm but it was only just warm enough for us. Actually, there were more English people than French in this place, all the motorhomes have their awning on the left side.

I had the amazing experience of sunbaking... without sunburn. After about 2 minutes my conscience was telling me to get out of the sun but I stifled it and just enjoyed laying there.

There were all sorts of weird rules for the pool: no board shorts, no t-shirts, shower before entering, foot bath and... weirdest of all, no sun cream. Very strange.

After our resorty hour we realised that there was no beer in the equation and went back to the cabin for liquid refreshments. Cue the standard drunkeness. Lazy, we opted for the caravan park restaurant and thus had our worst meal of the tour - my pizza wasn't bad (3 cheese, not 4) but luke's fish was scarily awful.

We needed a down day. I felt I was ready for just sitting around doing nothing. While that didn't happen, it was close. We also got a bit of washing done, which is always an achievement.

Ancient Art and Underground Thrill Rides 20 Sept 2011

20 Sept 2011

Up too early, or so Luke's watch said. It insisted it was 5.57am and refused to change. Either a miracle had occurred and time had stopped right here in France or it was time for a new watch.

Queueing for tickets

We hustled to get ready and hooned off back to Les Eyzies to queue for tickets to the Combarelles cave. It was 9.10am when we got there, cold and foggy and already 20 people were queueing outside the Font De Gaume Office/Shed/Shack, most of them American, from what we could discern, although the people in front of us were English. We shivered, breathed out condensation, admired the carvings on the doorways on the building across the road and waited.

A tremor of excitement ran through the crowd as the office ladies arrived in their precision gift shop driving team formation. It was spectacular to watch. Meanwhile, a pushy tour guide led a bevy of fat Americans past the line and through the locked gate. One of them proudly displayed a jacket label that said "American Natural History Museum" so they may have been experts. Or else they were just showy jerques.

I decided that the really fat lady among them was Jean M. Auel, just to liven up the moment. She wasn't.

Then the precision gift shop team invited in all the people with reservations. Another disgruntled murmur ran through the crowd. Reservations? Bastards! Especially since a lot of us had tried to buy tickets the day before only to be refused. Turns out you have to book a month in advance or else just try your luck on the day. They only sell 150 tickets on the day.

Finally the ticket window opened and we slowly moved forward. It took a full 20 minutes to get to the window, by which time we'd made the full spectrum of "I'm here to buy Iron Maiden tickets" jokes. Thankfully we were able to get early Combarelles tickets, 10.45pm. Since we'd lined up I asked about the possibility of Font De Gaume tickets. Could only get in at 4pm. I think the people behind us were in for disappointment.

We had a bit of time to spare so went to enjoy the delights of more seatless, paperless public toilets before driving to the Combarelles site 2km from the town centre. The fog had cleared into a bright sunny, though cool, day. We eventually walked into the tiny office and idled a while with the 4 other people who were on our tour - they only allow six at a time. Finally our short and very knowledgeable tour guide arrived and led us to the locked gates of the cave. We passed through a locked door and walked single file along the hollowed-out walkway that leads into the deep rock.

Outside the Combarelles cave. Our guide is the short woman in brown

Originally you could only reach the Combarelle cave if you crawled on your belly through a small hole but thankfully they've widened the whole thing to allow easy access. We went about 120m along a narrow passage, maybe 1m wide and 1.5m tall, originally created by an underground river. There are a few stalegtites but it's mainly just water-shaped limestone.

The engravings in Combarelles don't immediately impress like the polychrome paintings that you might see at Lascaux. It's a far more subtle experience. You are in a very cramped space with little light and you rely on the tour guide to bring the wall to life in front of you. If the light faces the wall front on, there's nothing. If it's held to the side, things become easier to see. Sometimes the image leaps out at you and other times it takes a few moments where you study the various lines... and then you find yourself saying "AH!" Even then it can take a bit of prompting by the guide... but it's worth it.

There were mainly horses but also an ibex, mammoth, bison and even some human-like figures. For me, the best one was a cave lion, beautifully sculpted and carefully placed on the wall so that the contours of the rock looked like muscles, the eye well positioned. It was just so perfect, my stomach turned over. There's something about this ancient art that can move you deeply. It's incredibly old, created in incredibly difficult circumstances and is often highly skilled. I wanted to feel that at Pech Merle but there were too many people and not enough time. This time around, in that tiny space with 7 people, it was magic.

Lion engraving in the Combarelles

Most of the images were simply engraved into the soft rock, often with flint tools, although there are a few remnants of paint (manganese) as well. It seems that some of these images were well-realiseding but time has eroded them down.

Our guide spoke mainly in French but she would occasionally point a few things out in English for the benefit of Luke and I. She really knew her stuff and stayed to answer questions afterwards.

We celebrated a successful tour with a coffee and chocolat eclair in the coffee shop in town and then went wandering. As per usual, everything was shut, mainly because it was 1pm and lunchtime.

Les Eyzies rock overhang and prehistory museum

We ended up hanging around in the fossil shop because it was open and bought some iron pyrite and flint just for the fun of making fire. The shop owner recommended Grotte de Rouffignac so we decided to change plans and drive the 15km out to it.

By then the weather was fine and hot, the sun was out and everything was very pleasant. At the cave things were casual, no tour buses or queues. Rouffignac is different to the ones we've seen before. It's more of a "Hollywood" cave - a huge arch leading down into the mountain. This one is studded with nodules of flint and was used as a flint mine in ancient times.
The entrance to Rouffignac cave

This tour saw us loaded onto a little train and driven more than 1km under the earth - a very slow subterranean roller coaster. I was wondering where the Gringott's vaults were. Once again the guide spoke in French so we missed all the finer details. it takes about 10 minutes to get to the paintings, incredibly deep and far in. Once again, the air is cold and damp, about 12 degrees and it's pitch black. Occasionally the guide would turn off all the lights and my heartbeat would instantly increase.
Very slow underground roller coaster

Rouffignanac boasts several friezes painted with black manganese, a very stable chemical that has survived well underground. The first shows 3 woolly rhinoceros in a row and - interestingly - also boasts graffiti dating from 1770. The second features mammoths and horses as well as some engravings. The train then proceeds to a spot very deep where the stone age artists have drawn at least 40 images on the smooth white ceiling.
Some of the 100+ images from the ceiling
Three woolly rhinoceros in a row

At one point the tour guide was discussing a mammoth in great detail and he kept pointing his torch at it's bumhole... carefully rendered in black. The original scientists thought the flap of skin over the anus might be graffiti. Turns out this was a careful attention to anatomical detail by the original artists and was only verified once modern day people had found a frozen mammoth to study it. More here.

As with so many of the caves, there was a section where the public was not allowed. This particular one contains human figures. The Combarelles has some of the mysterious symbols that are found only in that area (also at Font De Gaume). I have a vain wish of someday being able to access these hidden areas, although I have no idea how. I'm sure a degree in archeology does the trick. Or a hat and whip.
Luke did a spot of flint mining outside
We had a quick look at Laugerie Haute (Jondalar's home cave) which was closed

After our successful cave visit we were starving and drove to the local supermarket to buy peanuts, camemert and cider. We then gobbled that up sitting by the Vezere river, watching the sun set.

In theory we were supposed to go out for dinner tonight to enjoy duck bread, duck entree, duck soup, duck tape, duck dessert. We were too full from our snack. But we headed out to Auberge Veyret - the restaurant we went to 3 years ago - to see what was on the menu. Same stuff. Alas, booked out.

Thus, we drove back to the cabin and walked along the banks of the Dordogne, skimming stones. We had to cross a bit of water to get back on the bank and Luke gave me a piggy back.
The "beach" on the Dordogne at the Soleil Plage caravan park

Then we ate chicken, bacon and leek risotto again. Am now knackered. Tomorrow we have to clean this cabin and move to the next one at St Emilion Yelloh caravan park.

Roc St Christopher and Sarlat 19th Sept 2011

Quick notes from the 19th Sept:

- Lazy breakfast then travelled towards Les Eyzies, getting lost.

- Combarelles cave sold out before we got there at 11.30am. Damn. Didn't think it through properly.

- Drove out to Abri Cap Blanc and walked down the hill to ticket office. Nope, next tour is at 4pm and not in English. Put our names down for 11am the next day.

- Wondered what to do. On a whim, headed to Roc St Christopher, the troglodyte city. Glad we did. This is a huge rock shelter inhabited for 50,000 years. Saw most activity in the middle ages before it was destroyed in the wars of religion. We learned how people carved out square holes in the rock to make it easier to build shelters. Also there was a church with graves dug in, medieval building devices and a few interesting scenes laid out with original weapons or tools. The site features in the latter Ayla books.
The huge rock overhang has had a long history

How it may have looked in the middle ages

View down the river

Recreations of medieval construction machines

Stairway to heaven
No pictures!
Bottom of the rock shelter
Lovely view over the valley. Really enjoyed the visit, it was unexpected. Also had a nice E3 vegie soup for lunch.

- Headed to Sarlat, parked the car and wandered about the old city. It was Monday so half the place was closed. there were, however, 16 different fois gras shops all selling exactly the same thing in different containers.

Early French rocket prototype

Sarlat. It has old stuff.

-Sarlat is big on old buildings  but I think we're a bit beyond that stage now. Looked a bit, didn't spend too long.

- Very serious photo being taken by a group at the Sainte Marie fountain. I made faces to they laughed at the last minute.

- Had ice cream, creme brulee and Luke had lemon merangue pie... very nice.

Went shopping, bought leeks and chicken to make risotto... a big success.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Down Day 18th Sept 2011

18th Sept 2011

Today has been a bit of a down day, insomuch as nothing got done, except the washing and the retrieval of our credit card from a complete stranger.

We started the day with a gorgeous breakfast at the Manoir, prepared by the lovely Oufaa. At E14 it was expensive but we were happy to pay and it was fairly sumptuous. Oufaa even made us scrambled eggs which is rare for France. Plus amazing cheese and ham, prunes, croissants, home-made jams and bread, home-made biscuits and good juice and yoghurt.

We took our time leaving, even though the cleaning lady thought she might come in and check out Luke in his undies. She should have seen him singing into the shower last night, Mr Warrglebarrrgle.

We headed for the caravan park, 10km away, although naturally we got lost and headed for Sarlat, took a while to work things out. Finally we got to Soleil Plage. Checking in very early (at 12.30 rather than 5pm) was no problem, the host is lovely and speaks English fluently, along with 3 other languages.

The shiny interior
Snazzy cabin
Settled into our new shiny cabin, I sent Luke on his way and set out to do the washing. I have to say, this load of washing could well be the most closely nursed load of washing in the history of the universe. At E5 a pop for the washer and the same for the dryer, I decided I would air-dry the load. A tricky proposition on a day like today which has been alternately raining, cold and sunny and windy. I hung out and took in the washing about four times today and watched it like it was a soap opera. Possibly more interesting.

Meanwhile, Luke went to Cahors and had the trip from hell, though it was only supposed to take an hour. He almost ran out of petrol, ran out of money and - it being Sunday - everything was closed. He had a chocolate bar for lunch, hypermiled on the freeway until he found a petrol station and overshot the mark a fair bit as well. Took 45 minutes for Mrs Baboulene to bring the credit card but he finally got hold of it and headed back. No chance of supermarket shopping for our cabin stay, all closed. Naturally. It wouldn't be open today.

He got back at about 6pm. We bought some emergency bacon from the reception and made simple bacon tomato pasta for dinner, plus some nice rose I bought from the office.

Tomorrow we'll get back to tourism, in much cleaner clothes.